Che “Rhymefest” Smith and Jasiri X outside 16th St Baptist Church in Birmingham (Photo by Paradise Gray)

State Senator Scott Beason, one of the principle architects of Alabama’s anti-immigration bill HB56, is a racist. That’s not just my opinion, that’s what he was called by U.S. District Judge Myron Thompson. Beason was a key witness in trial recently and was asked by the FBI to wear a wire. The wire picked up Beason making blatantly racist statements, calling Black people “aborigines,” “illiterate” and implying we can be enticed to vote with buffets. This lead Judge Thompson in his ruling to single out Beason. The Judge said Beason’s statements “demonstrate a deep-seated racial animus and a desire to suppress black votes by manipulating what issues appeared on the 2010 ballot” and added, “Lawmakers who harbor such sentiments lack the integrity expected from elected officials.”

It’s no surprise that Beason’s name is attached to a piece of legislation that singles out a specific group of people for racial profiling, harassment, and arrest. Alabama’s HB56 is not only the harshest anti-immigration law, it’s inhumane. HB56 requires schools to verify the immigration status of students upon enrollment, allow law enforcement to check the status of people they suspect are undocumented during routine stops and arrests, and prohibits renting property to undocumented immigrants. It also makes it a felony for undocumented immigrants to apply for a driver’s license, license plate, or business license. In other words if you’re a human being in Alabama with no papers, it’s a crime to live.

Last week, I traveled to Alabama with members of Sound Strike, a coalition of artists that have committed to supporting the International Boycott of Arizona in the wake of the passage of its own racist and oppressive bill SB 1070. What we saw was heartbreaking, but also inspiring. We met with families that were broken up due to the enforcement of HB56 and children that were forced to watch their parents arrested and taken away. We heard stories about the thousands of undocumented students afraid to go to school.  But we also met a group of undocumented activist so bold they placed a huge banner outside of the trailer home they live in that read, “Undocumented and Unafraid.”

Dream Activists with Jasiri X, Community Activist William Anderson, Che “Rhymefest” Smith, and The Sound Strike’s Javier Rodriguez (Photo by Paradise Gray)

These Dream Activists came from all over the country to challenge Alabama’s unjust legislation. Putting their own freedom on the line and a possible ten year ban from returning to the United States, they willing got arrested on the steps of the courthouse in Montgomery, Alabama to draw attention to HB56. They shared with us the story of two Dream Activists, Jonathan and Issac, who bravely walked into a Mobile, Alabama Border Patrol office and declared themselves to be undocumented. They were arrested and gathered stories from others within the various detention centers they were transported to. Thankfully they were freed a week later. I got the feeling I was looking at the next generation of civil rights leaders, right outside of Birmingham, where Black children faced down attack dogs and water hoses to erase laws for the books that discriminated against us.

That night the historic 16th Baptist Church, where 4 little girl gave their lives for a better tomorrow, was filled with Latino families, with thousands more outside standing up against HB56, in unity with people of all races and faiths. Only a racist mind like Beason would want to saddle Alabama with a Hate Bill that takes us back to ’56.